Forward Jeff Odgers is the Thrashers' designated brawler, and he has a ready explanation for how a tough guy can be a teddy bear around children. "A lot of the scrapping has to do with caring about your teammates, standing up for them," says Odgers, who's logged more than 2,000 penalty minutes in his 11-season, four-team NHL career. "That's not much different from caring about kids."
Since arriving in Atlanta before the 2000-01 season, Odgers has volunteered regularly with Special Olympics Georgia, conducting hockey clinics, serving as a spokesperson and filming public-service announcements. For four months he's coached a Special Olympics floor hockey team of 15 sixth- to ninth-graders. Even when a broken ankle kept him off the ice for 10 weeks, he ran weekly drills. He also secured the Thrashers' practice rink for an afternoon with his club, which won the gold medal at the state Special Olympics indoor games in January. "I enjoyed seeing the same faces every week," Odgers says. "You could see their self-confidence growing." Says Georgia Milton-Sheats, executive director of Special Olympics Georgia, "Jeff is very competitive, but he's also very kind and open-minded. Sometimes people don't know how to react to those with intellectual disabilities; they tend to look at their disability. Jeff looks for their ability."
About the only person Odgers hasn't impressed is himself. "The people who do the real work are the full-time volunteers," he says. "I can come in and make an impact, but the real heroes do it every day."